Chatting at gigs - You talkin' over me?

Last week Simon O'Hagan argued that audiences should stop chattering at rock gigs. Here musicians and promoters give their reaction


Barb Jungr - Jazz singer

I must say that I haven't found audience chatter a problem when I've been performing, but then what I do is closer to a recital than a rock concert and it's a different kind of crowd. As a punter at other shows though, I'm really aware of how much noise there is, and what's getting much worse is people texting. It makes me furious. Live music should be about people sharing an experience and responding emotionally to it together. A person texting has not only stepped outside of that process, they've destroyed it for the people around them too. I was very aware of this at the Barbican last year when I went to see Gilberto Gil. But then with a big venue like the Barbican with maybe 2,000 people you're bound to have some who are just there on the off-chance rather than a smaller venue where it's a more dedicated audience.

Andy Inglis - Director of The Luminaire in London
I make no apology for being absolutely hardline about this. It makes me furious the way audiences treat bands. It's a terrible attitude. I just don't accept that because people have paid for their ticket it entitles them to behave how they like. You wouldn't talk to your friends all the way through a film or a play, so why do people think it's okay to do it at a gig? We launched the club in 2005, and after about six months I put signs up asking audiences to keep quiet when an act was on and now people know it's part of our ethos. If people want to talk to their mates that's fine – so long as they leave the club. A lot of it comes from the staff. My staff are very good. At the bar, for example, they know to serve drinks as quietly as possible. I don't have to tell them to close the till quietly. One of the reasons we get such good acts that keep coming back is because they like the audience at the Luminaire. They know they are going to be treated with respect.

Sufjan Stevens - Singer songwriter
I don't care if people talk through shows. They paid for their ticket; they can do what they want. It's not a church. But the appropriateness of chatter is all about context. There is a time and place for listening, for capturing every word, every nuance, every motion on stage. But this isn't the case for a lot of popular music today, which, by incorporating dance beats, disco beats, Afro-beats (or whatever), lends itself to a party, where people should drink generously and talk loudly. It's a good thing. For a songwriter like myself, the audience can be overwhelmingly attentive. I don't tour often and my songs have a lot of words (and very little "four on the floor"), so I understand wanting to hear everything. I don't create a party vibe. But honestly I don't always like the standing and staring zombie look I get from the stage. The reverent, respectful posture from a crowd can be a bit overbearing. I would rather people lighten up, get drunk and have fun. The whole enterprise of music is about celebration and exhibitionism. Crowd chatter, catcalling, shushing, drunken revelry – all that noise allows for the public to participate. This is the era of exhibitionism. We are entitled to it.

Cate le Bon - Singer songwriter
I was once playing in a cinema in the Richard James Band and some poor kid was fidgeting and shouting in the otherwise quiet audience having taken ecstasy. I am not sure what the thinking behind the music and drug combination was, but, nevertheless Rich was obviously put off by this and stopped mid-song. He tore a strip off him telling him that this was his window to leave. The audience joined in and he had to leave the cinema rather confused with the crowd jeering him. Poor sod. I can't imagine he or anyone who experienced the humiliating eviction dared utter a word at a gig ever again.

Steve Adams - Founder of Singing Adams, ex-Broken Family Band
It's become the curse of gig-going, and I've certainly had to shush people when I've been on stage. The other night I went to see Spoon at the Electric Ballroom in Camden and two guys in front of me were talking away. Here they were with one of the greatest bands ever on stage, and they were more interested in talking to each other about their day at the office. I asked them if they'd keep quiet and it turned quite confrontational, which you really don't want. Of course you can take it too far. I like folk music as much as the next man, but not the reverence that surrounds it. Maybe the problem is that music is now so disposable that the gig-going experience isn't valued so much.

Howard Monk - Promoter, The Local
We do this Ssh! festival, which is all about getting people to shut up. It was conceived as more of an instruction to the audience and we get people in to help us and call them "shushers" . If you like music, you like hearing it. We are going to do a festival called What? for really loud music and then people won't be able to hear each other anyway. I remember asking someone to shut up at Glastonbury when The Arcade Fire came on, and was roundly applauded for it. At the Jazz Café they have signs saying: "STFU during the performance. Thank you." I just love it, it's perfect.

Ben Knox Miller, singer, The low Anthem
We cut our teeth playing bars in Red Sox Nation so by contrast the Brit crowds are really engaged. If some people have forgotten how to be still, it's not their fault. They have been psychically infiltrated by the inevitable powers of glitter and flesh. Blame the liquor or all the soundbites wreaking havoc. Our circuitry is susceptible to these things. If you are suffering from a short attention span, try yoga. Try Ritalin. We all need help sometimes.

Interviews by Elisa Bray

What do you think? Should audiences stop chattering at rock gigs? Leave your opinions in the comments form below

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